Strictly not my last as I used my right to reply to thank the hundreds of Council officers who helped make my job as a councillor possible - but here's the prepared speech.
"On my bedside table there’s a copy of The Little World of Don Camillo, Giovanni Guereschi’s whimsical evocation of life in a little Italian town back in the 1940s. More than any other book, this one has shaped how I think about politics. Let me share a bit from its opening:
…I want you to understand that, in the Little World between the river and the mountains, many things can happen that cannot happen anywhere else. Here, the deep, eternal breathing of the river freshens the air, for both the living and the dead, and even the dogs have souls. If you keep this in mind, you will easily come to know the village priest, Don Camillo, and his adversary, Peppone, the Communist Mayor. You will not be surprised that Christ watches the goings on…and that one man beats the other over the head, but fairly – that is without hatred – and that in the end the two enemies find they agree about essentials.Those ‘essentials’ are in the simplest terms community, neighbourhood and pride in the place we live.
In this grand room we talk about Bradford in sweeping terms but outside, our attention is, as us pompous urbanists put it, more granular. Most of our work as councillors – and probably the thing that gives us most pleasure – is done in the communities we represent.
I was sat on top of Denholme Edge the other day eating a ham and tomato sandwich, admiring the view. Much of what I see from there is Bingley Rural. And it is beautiful.
Anyway I was sat there and I got to thinking. Each way I looked, into every nook of the places in that view there was a story – something that had been done to make the place a little better. Some of those stories were about stopping something – the ten year campaign, ending in the High Court, to stop a landfill blighting Denholme – but most were about improvement, little acts of betterment. A new kids playground, some traffic lights, a crossing – small things that matter to people far more than the big things we usually talk about in these Council meetings.
Bradford is a place of a thousand little worlds, each one different and each one precious to the people who live it them. It is those little worlds that my motion is about. First that we should celebrate the ordinary folk who, every day, do something to make those places better or the people in them stronger. And second that, even in these financially constrained times, us councillors – individually and collectively – can do something to help those good people with their betterment.
The idea for a loan product starts with a meeting I had with the then Corporate Services Director, Stuart McKinnon-Evans. I happened to mention the efforts to raise the cash to build a new village hall in Cullingworth and that they were looking at a soft loan from Unity Bank or Charity Bank. Stuart’s response was “why not ask the Council?”.
We did, and tomorrow £50,000 will be loaned to the hall by the Council – the final bit of funding for a £900,000 project.
The new hall is built and, with a fair wind, will open after Easter this year – nearly six years after former Heaton councillor, Bryan Hobson – then chair of the hall committee – announced the need for a new hall because the old one, a 50 year old wooden hut, was falling down.
My motion simply asks officers to look into how we might make this approach more widely available – Cullingworth was lucky because I was leader of the Conservative Group and sat in a meeting with the Council’s most senior finance officer.
There is a lot of criticism – not always justified – directed at the council for giving too much attention to the city centre. This motion, at pretty much zero cost to the council, allows us to provide another way to support local communities – those little worlds we each represent - do those little acts of betterment.
If you want to be flash, you could call it social venture capital – investing in social enterprises like community centres, sports clubs and pre-schools. Add to this the consideration of planning gain, some advice and support around planning and licensing, and we have a little package that can perhaps get a few more local initiatives out of the ground.
It’s not a panacea and can’t replace the loss of grant funding or the reduction in neighbourhood support or community development but it would help and, I feel, show that the Council is thinking about those thousands of little worlds than make up our city as well as the grand projects that might make the centre of that city great again.
Lord Mayor, I’ve sat through – and made the occasional contribution to – over 200 council meetings. A lot of what we do features much sound and fury but little real purpose beyond political campaigning. But in and amongst this are little ideas – often quiet – that we soon forget about but which make a real difference to some of those little worlds.
In the end we’re not measured by the titles we had, the power we wielded or the things we said, we’re tested on whether we did good and if, at the end of our time, we made the places we represent just a little bit better.
In Rudyard Kipling’s paean to his home county of Sussex he starts like this:
God gave all men all earth to loveWe are vessels for the love that people have for their communities, their neighbourhoods – you all know this – and I hope that, in our small way, we can help those people make their little worlds just that little better."
But, since our hearts are small
Ordained for each one spot should prove
Beloved over all…